Running Barefoot

Running barefoot comes quite natural to humans and is a very liberating experience so regardless of your running level, don't discount the idea of incorporating at least some barefoot running into your regular training.

While far from new as a concept, the topic of running barefoot has been gaining much more attention and of course controversy over the past decade. A big part of this increase in popularity has to do with the release of the recent best seller Born to Run

by Christopher McDougal, which happens to be a great read and must have for any running library. While McDougal presents very compelling evidence in support of running barefoot through a great tale, he is far from the pioneer of the barefoot movement. In fact there was reportedly a dispute that took place between running coach great Arthur Lydiard and Nike founder Bill Bowman when Bowman’s newer shoe designs proved significant heel raise and support mechanisms compared to the shoes of the time. Lydiard’s position was that providing support of this type would serve to ultimately weaken runners and so have a negative impact on the whole industry.

You don’t have to look too far to find other credible running gurus that support and promote running barefoot at least some of the time during training. Dr. Nicolas Romanov, a well respected international running coach and founder of pose running method, discovered and has been communicating the importance and effectiveness of running barefoot for 30 years. Many great running coaches have recognized the importance of running barefoot for their athletes and have been incorporating barefoot workouts into training regimens for decades.

One other fact that is hard to ignore, is that we are evolutionary creatures and evolution takes time. Running shoes have been around for 50 years while humans closer to 200,000.

Barefoot Controversy

The running shoe industry is a multi billion dollar industry and the concept of running barefoot turns the industry upside down. Manufacturers and companies that sell running shoes stand to lose money unless they adapt. The majority of the learn to run clinics that are associated with running stores do not emphasize running technique nearly as much as selling running shoes based on your foot type and the natural way that you run and walk. The well meaning staff at these stores don’t know how to handle questions about barefoot running so they frequently refer to it as a ‘fad’. None of this is new or surprising. The emergence of any new idea typically meets resistance as it goes against the thinking of the masses as change and awareness takes time.

Barefoot Benefits

Barefoot running, like good running cadence, promotes correct running form. It does this by heightening your body’s sensitivity to impact that is no longer artificially blocked by running shoes with chunky cushiony heels. As with good running form, barefoot running works with the laws of nature to let your body do what it was designed to do...feel the ground and respond naturally. Running without artificial support will help to strengthen all of the muscles and intricate connective tissue of the feet and calves. Some running coaches have been known to promote barefoot running as a means to actually 'build' an arch in runners with flat feet!

Move into it Gradually

When it comes to barefoot running, you don't have to go all the way ditching your shoes altogether. In fact, a good goal would be to incorporate some regular barefoot running into your regular training as a strengthening strategy and running form drill.

Either way, like anything new, don't plan on making the transition to part or full time barefoot running overnight. Drawing from personal experience as well as those of many others who have incorporated regular barefoot running into their training, you need to ensure that you provide your body with ample time to adapt. What worked for me, is removing my shoes for the last mile of a treadmill run and gradually increased the amount of distance without shoes over many weeks until I was running recovery runs of 3 to 5 miles barefoot on the treadmill. You can simulatenously start to introduce shoes with a little less support than you are used to running with. Moving to shoes with less heel support is a natural transition to running barefoot and will help guide you to correct running form since your heels will barely or never hit the ground first any more. In fact, you'll quickly start to realize that big chunky heel plugs only get in your way of a nice mid foot landing.

Without getting into specifics, many shoe brands have what they call 'performance trainers' that are much lighter than regular trainers, and so of course typically offer much less heel cup and support. Eventually racing flats are a good choice for those ready to graduate to minimalist shoes but not quite ready to go all barefoot. Eventually, if you want to go all the way, you can look at getting your hands on a pair of Vibram 5 fingers that fit your foot like a glove and provide protection from friction and piercing objects when running outdoors.

If you can, start by running very short distances of 400 and 800 meters on a track or treadmill. From my own experiences and those of others in my running circle, integrate very gradually and with caution.

While I don’t regularly barefoot run outside, I have moved to minimalist shoes that allow my feet to work and strengthen with very little heel lift.

If you like the idea of barefoot running and would like to integrate it into your training, I highly recommend getting your hands on a pair of minimalist shoes to use as training tools for your feet and lower legs.

Here are some suggestions and some of our favourites:


Mizuno - Wave Ronin 3 (White/Silver/Red Orange) - Footwear


Mizuno - Wave Musha 4 (Lime Punch/Prism Violet/ Chinese Red) - Footwear


ASICS - Gel-DS Trainer 16 (Flame/White/Black) - Footwear


ASICS - GEL-Speedstar 5 (Sun/Onyx/Flame) - Footwear

Nike FREE *Top Choice for closest to barefoot feel*

Nike - Free Run+ 2 (Bright Blue/Loyal Blue/Pure Platinum) - Footwear


Brooks - PureConnect (Brilliant Blue/Pavement/Black/Brite Green) - Footwear

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